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Great tech teams are not born, they’re made. While greatness can be a product of stringent and cutthroat practices, building a talented and happy team can be a pleasant — not painful — process. It won’t be easy, though. Keeping your tech team motivated isn’t just about throwing a budget for a monthly dinner. If you want to retain your best and brightest, you’ll need to establish organizational excellence, giving employees opportunities to develop or do different work. 

“Employees want interesting work that challenges them. Performing meaningful work gives them a feeling that what they do is important, and provides opportunities for growth so that they feel competent,” says Irene de Pater, an assistant professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School’s Department of Management and Organization.

Don’t build a wall around your tech team 

It’s important to include other key team members in the interview process. A poor culture fit can lead to turnover that costs companiesup to 60 percent of the person’s annual salary.

A good fit ensures that engineers and members of different functions can effectively communicate and work with each other. Especially in products requiring complicated engineering, companies may risk critical failure if engineers are not coordinated. For example, ina case by the Harvard Business Review, the A380 “superjumbo” by Airbus overran time and budget constraints due to incompatibilities in the design of the plane’s fuselage. This was discovered late in development. They could have avoided this by using a shared communication platform and compatible computer-aided design (CAD) tools. 

To bring down this wall around your team, you can start pairing up members initially on small projects. Let the paired programmers share a single desktop and review the code together. This allows developers to work together to find the best approach to creating good code.

Give people space, lots of it 

Keeping your developers happy isn’t a mystery. Give them space, and let them build stuff.

Being able to invent and innovate without pressure allows employees to see their work as meaningful, and helps them develop closer relationships with others. “Employees want good relationships with their colleagues and superiors so that they feel they have friendships and social support at work,” Professor de Pater says.

Feedback can sting, but it shouldn’t hurt too much 

Having a culture of honest feedback will encourage employees to contribute thoughts and ideas more fearlessly. Constructive honesty can be part of the training process. Managers can focus on positive reasons for giving feedback, prepare for the session well, and handle emotional reactions calmly. For example, instead of telling a new coder that his work isn’t up to your standards, a senior developer would first start a conversation focusing on what the team is trying to achieve — and whether the code is being written in the best approach. This way, the feedback is non-aggressive. 

Moreover, tech teams should focus on giving 360-feedback. Traditionally, feedback is top-down. “360-feedback” is when supervisors, subordinates, and peers provide staff with constructive advice, allowing an objective and holistic look into a person’s work and relationships in the company. When delivered supportively, 360-feedback can increase self-awareness and improve individual and team effectiveness,studies show. The feedback needs to be translated into intentional action to develop new habits, or change existing ones to remain effective.

Find passionate technologists 

Another step in building your dream team is to find passionate technologists. We’re not talking about developers who come to the office and don’t complain. We’re talking about people who spend their whole day coding, just to go home and work on a side project — a blog, an app, an open source project. 

You want these people on your side, because they’ll go above and beyond when it comes to the technical side of your organization. They’ll work hard to keep you up-to-date on the latest techniques and will take pride in helping your company succeed. It’s easy to spot these passionate individuals during the interview process. All you need to do is ask interviewees about outside projects. If they’re passionate about what they do, you’ll be able to tell by how they talk about it. Grab the passionate ones.

The challenge of coordination 

With so many teams moving so quickly, coordination will become a challenge. This is partly addressed by returning to a core team principle: strive for autonomy and independence. You must encourage teams to pursue projects that are within their power to take from idea to completion without the immediate need for external help. However, this eliminates the need to coordinate amongst teams altogether, and the fact is, there are inevitably projects that require multiple teams to collaborate. In those cases, there are four ways to improve coordination:

  • Each of your teams have a planning meeting every two weeks. Anyone can attend these meetings.
  • Each of these teams have a demo every two weeks, in which they show off the work they’ve done recently. Every team that is working together can attend each other’s demos.
  • Weekly product backlog meeting, where all product teams share upcoming projects and discuss metrics related to recently-launched features.
  • Finally, each team’s lead developer and product owner takes specific responsibility of pro-actively reaching out to other teams to discuss upcoming work. 

These approaches are intentionally lightweight and simple. They rely on people’s own initiative to share their work, communicate actively with others, and work out the details themselves to address the many challenges of coordination. 

About the Author 

Hari Vignesh Jayapalan is a Google Certified Android app developer, IDF Certified UI & UX Professional, street magician, fitness freak, technology enthusiast, and wannabe entrepreneur. He can be found on Twitter @HariofSpades. 


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